By Josh Bryant
The last week has been absolutely insane. I’ve been a longtime advocate for adoption reform because of unethical adoption practices I unearthed as an adoptive father and attorney who has helped others through an adoption. Churches rightly promote adoption. James 1:27 requires us to care for the orphan, and Jesus told us that the Kingdom belonged to little children (Mt. 19:14). There are times however that our zeal for the orphan blinds us to the sin of those who claim to help in the process of adoption.
Let me tell you the story in a nutshell. My colleagues and I have been aware for some time now that certain adoption practitioners were preying on a marginalized community in my area. Last week, one of those practitioners was indicted on sixty-two criminal counts in three states related to fraudulent adoption practices. He was transporting pregnant women from overseas whom he’d offered $10,000 to place their child up for adoption, housing them in very tight quarters which required some to sleep on the floor, and overall valuing these women only insomuch as they had a commodity in their wombs that he wanted to put up for adoption to his profit. You can read more here. I’ve had the unhappy privilege of working with the team helping clean up the mess left by his practices and arrest.
The good citizen model of organizational ethics analyzes conduct as ethical or unethical by whether the actions constitute good citizenship. It is controversial because people can disagree, and those disagreements can be come political. This is a case in which I do not think there should be any disagreement. Churches which encourage Christians to be foster or adoptive parents are good citizens. Without people to take care of the orphan and abused children, the state is in a bind. Foster care numbers routinely exceed available beds. To obey Scripture and care for the orphan is not only classically ethical, it is simply good citizenship.
Urging Christians to be cautious in working with attorneys and adoption agencies does not diminish the value of civic service churches do when encouraging Christians to adopt. In a 2016 article, the CEO of the National Council for Adoption Chuck Johnson lamented the jeopardy the institution of adoption was in due to declining numbers and unethical practices. Put simply, people are wondering if the process of adoption can be done ethically.
Some may disagree, but the ends cannot justify the means. Christian ethics is deontological, meaning the rules determine the results, are the basis of our actions, are good regardless of the result, and serve as the framework within which the result is calculated. In short, the rules precede the result; the ends cannot justify the means. Generalistic ethics such as this say that a person’s actions depend on the result of those actions. Under that theory, murder is good if the victim was a serial rapist. Surely we cannot approve of a person taking justice into his or her own hands on any biblical basis. Neither can we approve of the selling of a child that would most likely have a better life being adopted than not. While churches should promote adoption and foster care, Christians must use caution when selecting those with whom they obtain help in that process. Church leaders must urge the same.
by Josh Bryant
We are excited to announce $1W (short for One Dollar Webinar). This is going to be a short, 15-minute webinar on a wide variety of topics that church leaders need to know about. Our first webinar will be on vetting volunteers. We'll have quick points that are easy for you to copy down, and you'll have the ability to ask questions. You are guaranteed to get an answer from an attorney that specializes in the law as applied to churches if you are a registered attendee. We'll have a follow up Facebook Live at the Church Esquire Club immediately following the webinar.
Don't miss this awesome opportunity. Sign up below!
by Josh Bryant
Church General Counsel is super excited to announce the launch of Law and Church, a podcast for church leaders from church lawyers. We will interview some of the top church leaders from across the country on issues churches are facing that have legal implications. We'll work through cases of churches that are in court right now so that we can learn from them together and work to avoid similar situations.
The podcast will be hosted by Josh Bryant and Bryan Fittin. Our first guest is Dr. Thom Rainer, President of Church Answers and former CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. We will also interview Jim Sheppard, Principle and CEO of Generis. Generis is a stewardship consulting firm that helps churches across the country. We also have interviews scheduled with student pastors, security experts, child abuse experts, senior pastors, and more.
We look forward to helping pastors, ministers, and church leaders with this podcast. Learn more at www.LawAndChurch.com.
We can't expect to accomplish great things for God without a bit of opposition. There will undoubtedly be obstacles. But, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? Marcus Aurelius said it this way hundreds of years ago:
Our actions may be impeded...but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adopt. The mid adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances the action. What stands in the way becomes the way.
There may be a giant ogre of an obstacle standing in your way, but that ogre cannot block your intention or happiness because you have it within your control to adapt. Change your perception. Use the ogre to help you advance your purposes. Let the obstacle be your way, and remember: "affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope." Romans 5:4
Cory and Stephanie Epps have released their first Christmas EP called Love Has Come to Save. Church General Counsel managing attorney Josh Bryant was able to walk them through the process of obtaining copyrights on their work. Cory and Stephanie Epps are phenomenally talented, and they wrote one of those songs that tells the entire story of Christmas in a new and refreshing way. It starts before Christ left the bliss of heaven and goes all the way through His ultimate victory on the cross, interspersed with the praise that this loving gift deserves. Bryant has joked that the song is Dove Award worthy. After you listen, we think you'll see it isn't a joke - Cory and Stephanie Epps have written an amazing song about the Love that's come in Jesus' birth. Their arrangement of other Christmas classics don't disappoint either.
Churches do things like this all the time, and while no musician or pastor should get greedy with what they create, the pastoral process is inherently creative. Whether you are preparing a sermon, creating graphics, or writing a Dove-worthy Christmas song, you should take steps to protect the integrity of your intellectual property. Monetizing your intellectual property is not inherently greedy. It is a means by which God can provide for your family or church, perpetuate His work from a financial standpoint, and otherwise extend the reach and influence of your work. Managing Attorney Josh Bryant has experience in several aspects of intellectual property law, including copyright, trademark, and other areas that generally don't apply to churches. The intellectual property services he offers are all part of the monthly subscription service churches use to retain Josh Bryant or other attorneys through Church General Counsel. Pastors and musicians can get intellectual property and other assistance independent of their churches at www.josh-bryant.com.
Get Cory and Stephanie Epps' new album on iTunes here.
Get Love Has Come to Save on Google Play here.
My Momma always told me never talk about religion or politics - at least someone's momma told me that. Here we are about to talk about both in one post. The political activity of churches has been in the news a lot this year since President Trump has allegedly repealed the Johnson Amendment that prohibited 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations from politicking from the pulpit. Did you know that isn't exactly true? The President doesn't have the authority to change congressional legislation. By executive order, he changed the way it is to be interpreted by the IRS. As has been proven time and time again over the last several administrations, with the stroke of a pen that interpretation can again be changed. Here are some reasons to have your Church General Counsel review your political activity policy.
- A written policy on employee political activity is wise.
First of all, a written policy on employee political activity is wise. Do you want your staff or your church to support a particular party or candidate from the pulpit? Does such conduct align with the vision and mission of your church? Is it ok for your staff members to run for office? Can church funds be used for political purposes? What about church resources - could they be used on behalf of a political candidate? Is it ok for church staff to use church time to lobby or campaign? These are all questions which your personnel committee, elders, and/or senior pastors need to answer and put in writing so that everyone is aligned with the direction of church leadership.
Secondly, it is important that you have a political activity policy that is flexible and can be changed quickly. Right now, the Executive Order on the Johnson Amendment prohibits the IRS from finding a church guilty of violating the Johnson Amendment if it could not also find a secular institution guilty. How that would play out if litigated is far from certain since churches have a much bigger pulpit (pun intended) than most 501(c)(3) organizations. Nevertheless, this is just an executive order that cannot overturn congressional legislation. As quickly as it was signed by President Trump, it could be revoked by Congress, the courts (if challenged), or a subsequent president. As such, you need the ability to quickly update, disseminate, and educate others on a policy that aligns with the law as it changes. Managing Attorney Josh Bryant stands ready to help your church comply with this law.
Third, churches need to be fully informed of the repercussions of violating IRS regulations for 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations. If prosecuted, a church could lose its tax exempt status. That means that every donation made to your church is no longer deductible by your donors. It could hurt your annual giving and ultimately shut the doors to your church. Now, we don't want to be alarmists, and to be fair this is something that has not been tested. However, the law clearly states that you could lose your tax exempt status if found guilty of violating this law. Churches are wise to render unto Caesar in this regard.
Finally, your church needs to understand that there is a difference between endorsement of a particular candidate or party and issue advocacy. You can preach on abortion or poverty until you are blue in the face as long as it doesn't appear that you are endorsing a particular candidate or political party. The government can even complicate this though, as the law up until know has allowed the government to infer violation based on a number of factors even when the content of the message appears on its face to be simply issue based and not directed toward any given party or candidate. Josh Bryant has worked with churches on this issue before, and he can help your church ensure compliance with this unusual law.
There are many different best practices that you could engage in to protect your church from this risk. While we don't want to stifle political speech, we do want to make sure your church is protected from undue government interference. Subscribe to Church General Counsel today for more information.
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me." It is a sad state of affairs that given such a command we have to talk about a policy that protects kids. Nevertheless, year in and year out, the abuse of kids and vulnerable adults is the top reason why churches end up in court. Since churches get sued most frequently on this issue, the question isn't "why have an attorney review our child protection policy?" The question is, "why wouldn't you?" Here are a few good reasons your church needs a child and vulnerable adult protection policy written by an attorney.
- Your church needs a policy that protects children and vulnerable adults from sexual predators.
Let's start with the main reason you need a good child and vulnerable adult protection policy: sexual abuse in the church hurts the cause of Christ, especially when its victim is a child. The church should be a beacon of hope that points to Christ, not the object of criticism because church leaders did not have a good policy in place to protect kids when they know how prevalent sexual abuse in the church has been up until now. Your church must have a robust policy that does everything it can to prevent abuse from ever occurring.
Secondly, you need a policy that aligns with what most liability insurance companies want. Josh Bryant has experience working with insurance companies on obtaining supplemental sexual incident coverage that is not covered by most general liability policies. Insurance companies are in a great position to know how sexual abuse in the church has occurred in the past, and know exactly what kind of policies they want to see before underwriting an insurance policy.
Third, your church needs a policy that perseveres evidence that a defense attorney will want to present to a judge or jury in the event your church is sued after an allegation of sexual misconduct. Unfortunately, churches in which sexual abuse has occurred are more likely to be guilty until proven innocent, and the only things that proves innocence is evidence. You must preserve evidence as best you can, and Josh Bryant has experience in litigation such that he knows what kind of evidence is necessary.
Fourth, your church needs a policy that is as legally defensible as it is operationally manageable. No policy is worth the paper it is written on if the pastors and volunteers responsible for enforcing that policy don't do it. Most pastors and volunteers don't want to be insubordinate to church policy - they simply don't have the time to do much of what a policy requires sometimes. That is why it is important to have an attorney with experience not only in law, but in ministry as well. Josh Bryant can help balance the ministry needs with the legal best practices.
Finally, you need someone to help with your child protection policies like Josh Bryant, who has the experience necessary to get the job done well. When you sign up for our attorney access plan, this is usually one of the first policies that Church General Counsel will review.
It is so important to have a good child protection policy. Members can see more tips on drafting this policy in our members only area, or you can contact us for more information on how we can help you draft a good child and vulnerable adult protection policy.
If you are a church in Arkansas, Josh Bryant is licensed in your state. If you are a church in Texas or Oklahoma, he's developed a network of attorneys to help if we need. Otherwise, you're right. we're not licensed in your state. The good news is, we don't have to be in order to be your "in-house counsel." What? How's that?
- An attorney does not have to be licensed in your state to be your In-House General Counsel.
Rule 5.5 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct governs what is known as the "Multi-jurisdictional Practice of Law." Organizations and businesses bring in attorneys all the time to work full time for them as "General Counsel." Many Fortune 500 companies have hundreds of lawyers working for them out of their corporate headquarters that aren't licensed in the state of the business because Rule 5.5 allows it.
The thing is, most churches can't afford their own in-house General Counsel at $150,000 per year. But most churches can afford a part-time Church General Counsel, especially at under $150 per month as opposed to the $150 or $200 per hour most attorneys would charge as outside counsel.
There are still limitations. Josh Bryant can't go to court in your state. He can't give opinion on matters that are purely a state law issue. That's ok though. Most of the legal risks churches face are under federal law, like employment issues, taxation, First Amendment, and so forth. Additionally, many of the things he'll advise you on are not inherently matters of legal opinion (although they are formed by legal education and experience). For example, procedural things like the "two adult rule" to protect kids and vulnerable adults in churches isn't necessarily legal advice - it's procedural advice designed to mitigate and manage the risk of going to court because a child or vulnerable adult is abused at your church.
If something came up where you needed a local attorney, your Church General Counsel would manage that relationship for you. It always helps for organizations like churches to have an attorney managing attorneys. Josh Bryant's job would be to lay out expectations to local counsel, provide instructions and get feedback using the legalese we're all trained in, and then communicate that back to you as the decision maker in your church.
This may be a bit confusing, so there will be subsequent podcasts, blogs, and blogs on the subject. Do us a favor - leave any questions you have in the comments below. We'll answer them directly and may also answer them as we produce more content in the future.
What a journey this has been. It's sometimes hard to grasp how God brought me to this point. What started as a career in law born out of having nothing else I could do with a degree in history and political science has turned into a stint in litigation, a season in pastoral ministry, and a sudden realization that God's gifts of a legal degree and experience and a ministry degree and experience created a unique skill set designed to aid His church in balancing ministry and church growth needs with legal compliance and best practices. This is how God has fit me together as only He could perfectly do in spite of my brokenness and frailty.
The long and short of it is this: every church needs an attorney. That is a sad reflection on our world, but it is the world we live in. Many pastors and church leaders would choose to defer to an attorney in their church, if they have one. That's fair enough. But I have practiced only one type of law over the last several years - in house, general counsel for a church of over 2,000 in weekly attendance. I have handled problems with employment, property issues, policy manuals, risk mitigation, legal compliance with consumer protection and medical regulations, state and local ordinances, and many other issues. I have stayed abreast of issues as they affect churches, why churches end up in court, and how to prepare the church to quickly leave court if not avoid it all together. At the same time, I understand that constraints from a church lawyer could stifle ministry. I understand the need to balance legal best practices with ministry needs and church growth strategies and programs. And I can price my services far below what most attorneys would charge if they charged a fee. Why not have a church general counsel?
Let me offer you this video as a way to get to know me. If I can be of any assistance at all, please let me know!
Church General Counsel Managing Attorney Josh Bryant, J.D., M.Div., authors most of the posts in this section. From time to time, he will post articles from others in the field of church growth, administration, and operations.